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How to Improve Your Communication Skills in the Office

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We all know that guy at the office who mumbles and stumbles over every word (you could have sworn you heard him say he would burn down the building when you swiped his red stapler). Or there's the lady that talks too loud at the water cooler, sharing the office gossip so that everyone without a set of earplugs can hear it. Forget the clichéd stereotypes; how about all of the people who don't understand that email has no "tone", that yelling is not an acceptable volume for the workplace, or those that seem blissfully unaware that such a thing as spellcheck exists? The point is, we could probably all use at least a modicum of attention when it comes to our communication skills (or decided lack thereof). And here are a few ways to make improvements.

  1. Take an English class. Good communication skills start with a good grasp of language, and there's no better way to get it than to learn vocabulary, grammar, spelling, proper sentence structure, and all the parts of language that help to make communicating more efficient. You might also want to tackle a few writing classes. You know what they say: something written is something remembered.

  2. Read out loud. Perhaps your problem is one of timidity. But you don't necessarily have to face your fears by joining a theatre troupe or standing on a soapbox in a public square. Practice speaking by reading aloud to yourself at first, and eventually reading to others. This exercise can help to improve diction, pronunciation, and even vocabulary if you choose some difficult reading material and keep a dictionary handy. It can also help with a proclivity to keep your mouth shut, a trait that will not help you to get ahead in any profession.

  3. Walk five steps to the next cubicle. If you're one of those people that would rather text, IM, email, call (or worse, use speakerphone) to communicate with a person in the next office or cubicle, get your lazy self up, walk a few feet, and actually talk to your coworker face to face! It can be easy to fall into the technology trap, what with the trappings of technology so close at hand, but there is no substitute for interpersonal interactions (and you'll stop annoying the heck out of everyone around you with your ridiculous antics).

  4. Ask for help. If you're struggling to figure out how to communicate appropriately in an office setting, choose a colleague that you respect and admire and ask for some pointers. People who make it to high positions in the working world have picked up some skills along the way and they may be willing to share their pearls of wisdom if you simply ask.

  5. Practice (it makes perfect). The art of strategic public relations does not come naturally to some people. Heck, the art of properly utilizing the English language is a stretch for many adults in the workforce. So if you're having a hard time communicating, despite all efforts, your best bet is simply to put yourself out there and practice. Go to a neighborhood bar and get some digits, volunteer at a shelter and talk to the people you meet there, or consider visiting your local community college to see if you can join the speech and debate team. Any time you can get outside your comfort zone and talk to strangers you'll have the opportunity to hone your communication skills.

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